The Davison Era

June 14th, 2013

Four square fellow

It might be argued that current iterations of the Doctor resolve dilemmas using vague pseudo-scientific, fairytale-magical abilities far beyond those of we mere mortals – or even our ability to understand how or if the latest 45 minute mellow peril has been resolved.

But there was a time when the Doctor seemed very ordinary and all-too-easy to identify with. Not always taken seriously, often frustrated and harassed by those he was forced to work with and seemingly unable to consistently inspire confidence or even ultimately deliver for those who depended upon him: the Fifth Doctor was all too relatable to.

Part of the charm of the Doctor is that although we are often reminded that he isn’t from Earth, he can embody the best and sometimes worst of our own human foibles. Despite his failings he can sometimes give us all something to aspire to.

The famous suggestion given to Davison by a very young fan as the actor was about to embark on the role, that he should play the Doctor “Like Tristan, but brave” was good advice. ‘Young Fifthy’ breathlessly loped through his adventures with even less self- assurance than the junior Farnon brother, but was also capable of an unerring sense of right and the courage to act with few more resources than the blue box which got him into his latest mess in the first place, and the bickering ‘flatmates’ he shared it with.

Much of this was imposed upon Davison by the production team, adamant, probably correctly, that his portrayal should be as far from the humorously omnipotent Tom Baker’s Doctor as possible. But like those who had gone before, the Fifth Doctor was also very much a product of his time. The early Eighties were a time of innovation coupled with a strong sense of looking back to gentler times and in the case of the programme, ‘Neo Romanticism’ and ‘New Edwardianism’ were particularly strong examples.

Eschewing the testosterone –charged excesses of the previous decades’ various iterations of rock, the neo romantic proponents of the New Wave music scene harkened back to a more refined, gentile and, in all probability, imaginary time. “What’s a man now, what’s a man mean,” sang Joe Jackson in 1982, “Is he rough or is he rugged, cultural and clean?” If Tom Baker and Pertwee were posturing lead guitarists and stage-hogging main vocalists, Davison was a (synth) keyboard-playing crooner, or in the case of The Five Doctors, a Harpist.

The early Eighties also heralded the all-pervading success of Chariots of Fire, and on the smaller screen, Brideshead Revisited. Edwardian fashion and sensibilities were back in vogue, and as ever, our programme was at the forefront of the old/young zeitgeist. The Fifth Doctor’s pleasant, open approach might have been very much of its time, but he could as easily have been a resident of Cranleigh Hall and not a visitor from another age.

But as is the case of most embodiments of old-world values, the world changed around the Fifth Doctor, and the sadists and murderers he increasingly encountered made an old- fashioned hero seem dated and quaint by comparison. His final adventure is famously held to be his best and least – a terrific script featuring a hounded, dying Doctor who achieves nothing to affect the brutal course of the story and it’s inevitably grim ending. Unlike his previous selves, he doesn’t die saving the Earth or the entire universe… but typically goes out batting for his friend. And no-one else would ever know, or even care.

“I thought he was sweet.” Protests Peri
“Sweet? Effette! Sneers the newly-regenerated Sixth Doctor, already barging his way towards a destiny cut short by a corner of the TARDIS console. His predecessor on the other hand, had just pushed himself past the point of his fifth life, holding off his own ‘death’ while wracked with pain and exhaustion, all to save a girl he’s only just met.

Tristan had never been braver.


Fast Return – May 2013

June 2nd, 2013

 Well well well. It’s all kicking off, isn’t it?

Technically, with this being a May retrospective the news of June 1st naturally shouldn’t figure, but crikey – who saw this coming? Well, yes, quite a few people it seems. Still, the news of Matt Smith’s departure hasn’t gone down well with absolutely everyone, and we’ll likely all have a sore head before morning for one reason or another.


Still, at least it’s not as bad as Norwich, eh? Talk about your disturbances in the Force…

Expressions of outrage were of course ALL the rage in May of this year, particularly after the closing minutes of The Name of the Doctor. Here’s a selected number of reactions from off Twitter, which was invented by the children of the future to give voice to such concerns you know. Bless.

Elsewhere Tumblr came up with a scenario all McGann-loving oldies can cling to their bosom. yes, I know this is already dated as a viral meme and that everybody and their auntie’s dog has seen it but this is for posterity, okay?

Ayy, but that season finale, eh? Eh? The Name of the Doctor, which opened the door to his tomb. Who’d have guess it would after all this time be Doctor Please? Oh yes it was! And here was me thinking after all this time it was something else, like:

Semi-finally, if there’s anything The Name of the Doctor gave us, it was an episode with Madame Jennystrax in it, which we haven’t had for a while. If you’re in the mood for that sort of thing in 28mm but can’t find an officially sanctioned BBC toy to meet your requirements, you could always make do with these from Crooked Dice (or convert the Comedy Sontaran (TM) into Nimrod the Butler of course)

And finally finally – already suffering withdrawal symptoms from not getting enoff Muffet- er, enough Moffat? Why not create your own NooWhoo storylines with this handy generator.

The Tom Baker Era

May 11th, 2013

Faced with the prospect of encapsulating the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who in roughly five hundred words is some task. The man who would play – nay, epitomise the Doctor in his fourth incarnation on and off the screen is simply the sine qua non, without whom the series might not enjoy its twin existence as both popular entertainment and ‘cult’ fascination. Seven seasons, seven companions, four producers and a legacy that to this day means to more than one generation the quintessential shorthand for the Doctor involves jelly babies, curly hair and toothsome grins, and an impossibly long scarf.

Please sympathise with me, then, as I attempt to unravel this almost universal portrait to find the kernel of the Baker era, to disengage the performer and children’s favourite, the formidable talents of men whose names became genres unto themselves in Who – Hinchcliffe, Holmes, Williams, Adams, and seek out a new byword for Doctor Who in the mid to late Seventies. That word ladies and gentlemen is Change.

All series rely on reinvention and on refreshing the sheets from time to time, but Doctor Who in its teens seems to actively seek change out – no two seasons of the Baker era are alike, much less even similar; there is no ‘business as usual.’ In fact the entire run of the Fourth Doctor may be seen as the culmination of several strong personalities attempting to cast their own interpretation of the series on each other, the show tripping from one set of fingertips to another like a ball in a line out toss. The Baker Era – epic, Gothic, didactic, antagonistic, Apocalyptic, satirical, funereal – has a style and feel for everyone. Think of it as a multi-coloured approach, if you will – like a scarf, of variously-flavoured like a bag of jelly babies. It is broad and deep enough to find an audience savouring a wide range of tastes, and in the middle of it all is an actor who gave so much of himself to the role, who literally occupied it as much as it occupied him, that he will forever be Tom Baker, Doctor Who.

 The Baker era tries everything, and occasionally stumbles when budget cuts conspire, but at its height its scripting is consistently high, and Baker’s instinctive performance caries the rest through – if ever an era could be said to have natural charisma, it’s this one. The Doctor, loping from one outlandish scenario to the next, is the most free he’s ever been, and ever will be, escaping a season-long story arc to randomly gad about the universe with his female equal. By season eighteen and the onrush of universal entropy we are given the answer to a final question – can the Doctor remain a universal constant as well, or is he also susceptible to change? The answer this that he does change, and in six years looking back it’s there to be seen most clearly. Say what you may about Tom Baker’s swansong, but for this viewer the image of a Doctor loosening his grip on a radio telescope beam to fall to his death and usher in his next form is one of the greatest moments of Tom Baker’s era, a moment of stoicism and calm, where the Doctor, resolutely Chaotic Good, surrenders his dominion over time and space to change again.

 Change, they say, is as good as a holiday; and for the fourth Doctor this holiday comes in the form of greater exploration in time than his predecessor, a confident eschewing of traditional enemies (after an introductory season, of course) and an indulgent season-long story arc. Space, as script editor Douglas Adams once wrote, is big, and in the space that the Tom Baker Era provides there’s plenty to lose one’s self in.  


Reverse the Polarity! issue 30

May 6th, 2013


Has it really been almost two years since the last RTP?  That’s twice as long as Eccleston’s entire tenure and longer even than Voyage of the Damned feels to watch.  This time-span means that RTP not only offers us bang up-to-date analysis of River Song’s logic-defying journey (thank you Jamas, you’ve made me feel so much better by pointing out that she actually married a robot), but we also have the conclusion to a strip and brilliant story starring The Tenth Doctor with his blonde and ginga companions, respectively.

Dave Ronayne’s concluding part of Weapon of Choice is a thing of beauty, and perhaps more timely than could have ever been imagined due to the recent screening of Cold War.  But what really makes this piece of fiction a pleasure is that the man really can write, as also evidenced in his Fanboy Confidential piece whereRonayne even makes the sentence “So, yeah, I just don’t know.” sound eloquent.

Personally, Fanboy Confidential has always been my favourite regular RTP feature because it invites the opinion and experiences of a range of fans, but unlike a toxic on-line forum, forces the contributors to express themselves with a degree of thoughtfulness, wit and personal affection for the topic.  I suspect participants might sometimes find Fanboy Confidential a self-revelatory or at least cathartic experience, it’s certainly always a great read.

Lastly, I can put off addressing a certain artist, writer and cartoonist’s colossal contribution no longer.  It’s a Herculean effort which astonishingly still manages to put quality over quantity.  Peter Adamson takes us from Stockbridge toNormandyand then leads the charge through the aforementioned Fanboy Confidential with a delightful collection of orthodontically-challenged caricatures (character options –release them as action figures now!)  And someone please release that Stockbridge map as a poster while they’re at it – gorgeous work.

Throw in my all-time favourite Karkus strip (and that’s really saying something) and RTP 30 is more than worth the long wait.

As Alex says in his editorial, the next issue is planned as a celebration of the programme’s 50th Anniversary.  I urge everyone to take the opportunity to become a part of this very special event by contributing. Think of how proud you’ll feel when your children ask you:  “What did you do in the 50th anniversary year Daddy?” and you can proudly brandish your RTP 31 at the little scamps.  I’ll certainly be on board.


Fast Return – April 2013

May 3rd, 2013

Ah well then. April has come and gone like a Past Doctor cameo wishlist, and now there are only six months and twenty three days ’til the Big Five-O – hooray!

Let’s see what news we had to tickle our fancies this past month:. Cue Smiths music:

Woo! A new issue of RTP! Well we would say that, wouldn’t we? Yes we would. It’s lovely to have a new print zine waiting in the letterbox eeee just like old times (it’s been nearly two years!)
nt sure what a fanzine looks like? Don’t trust those pesky newsgroups and haven’t yet saved enough for your very own Google? Head on over to the RTP blog to see what the fuss is about and how to get your hands on one.
A review will follow on this blog shortly, of course. And naturally, there’s the anticipation of RTP 31/the November anniversary issue…


…the way of thanking the Doctor according to the Royal Mail presumably being to lick his bottom and stick him to an envelope? No wonder traditional post is dying.

And as if by magic, unseen edits from Dimensions in Time appear on YouTube, courtesy of writer David Roden! Look, you can joke all you want (a few have come to mind), but twenty years on and in the time it was set at last (2013 – it’s in the script!) this is dynamite stuff. Yes, it looks rushed and sloppy and unforgiveable in places (poor Jon Pertwee), but it’s genuinely rare stuff and very generous of Mr Roden to share it with fans. A good job comments have been disabled, mind. Wise.

Speaking of surprise releases…

Moonbase! Moonbase is coming out partially animated! The Gravitron! The Phantom Piper! The teatray – oh my stars! Truly a Cyber-themed anniversary (just don’t mention it being a golden one, obviously)
They kept that one quiet, didn’t they?

And speaking of quiet DVD activities…

The Saville Effect allegedly claims another couple of scalps as The Two Doctors and The Sontaran Experiment have been quietly pulled from sale – or at least not hastily restocked? Why? Well, the extras for Two Doctors might explain that one away, but there’s also the repeated footage from Jim’ll Fix It on the Bred for War documentary. Now, the cynical among you might be saying at this juncture “Sell! Sell! No- hold, then sell!” And for sure, there are reports of some ker-razy prices being asked for the Sevillian job on Amazon and the like; and yet there is the hope that a re-release of Two Doctors (come on, it’s Pat! There’s not that much of a Making Of and I want my Comic Assassins-themed Colin and Sock Puppet duet song!) where was I? Oh yes. Hope that a re-release of Two Doctors on DVD might present an opportunity to add some other nice features on. Y’know, to fill that gap…

Speaking of no more gaps:

Oh yes. Some interesting commentary is free in this week’s Guardian courtesy of wunderkind Charlie Brooker on RTD and the death of conversation. No I don’t know what wunderkind means. Good article, though.

And speaking of good reads…

Nice one, Paul.  Writing a book about picture books without being able to use pictures* to do it is actually quite something! And good luck for the Vogels this July!

Okay, enough pleasantness. It’s the Anniversary year, we’re only getting the previous Tenannt in for the November show and fans are ANGRY!!! What would the reaction have been like if this had happened for the show’s tenth anniversary forty (ouch) years ago? Well, this of course.

(Seventies Facebook courtesy of Gav @themindrobber who does cool 3D art and also apparently has a 1983 version of the link above tucked away somewhere.)

And finally…

(Courtesy of the errant Mr Park)
This is for Deb. Who said you can’t have Barrowman for the 50th!

(*yeah yeah we know, there are some cover reproductions in the book. Just sayin’!)

The Pertwee Era

April 13th, 2013

Mention the era of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor to anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Doctor Who and you may we expect and receive some well-worn descriptions. ‘Man of action’ is one, maybe ‘exiled to Earth’, and then there’s ‘UNIT family’. They’re true, all of them, to a greater or lesser degree than Pertwee’s successors in the role, but what strikes me about these descriptions is how they attempt to find the unique aspects of the Third Doctor, sorting them from the more traditional and expected aspects of our hero. As mentioned they are accurate enough, but left as the sole descriptors for the Pertwee hero and his era we lose a vital element to this incarnation of the Time Lord – his Doctorishness.

The Pertwee Era is one of change of course (there’s another shorthand description) – colour, personnel, location, a new sense of dynamism, Action by HAVOC. While he’s on Earth there’s the sense that for the Third Doctor everything s going on all at once, and he’s in the middle of it doing his utmost to do the right thing. Jon Pertwee often likened his character to that of a ‘Mother hen’, using his great cloak to shield his female companions from whatever nasties they were facing. To be honest I can’t think of a single story where this actually occurs, but the notion of protection is a really useful theme to explore in Pertwee’s Era. The Doctor is firmly established as Earth’s protector more literally than ever before – once priding himself as a gentleman of the Universe he has been brought down to Earth as its guardian against threats from space, prehistory, modern science, and ultimately in the Master, the worst aspects of his own people. We can laugh at the routine appearances of Roger Delgado’s villain and the familiarity of the Doctor’s earthbound locations, but in an in-series context it’s arguable that the Time Lords were right – the Doctor was best put to use on our world, and is simply the best man for the job. And clearly we rub off on him, too, because no sooner does he receive his get-out-of-jail-free card with a new TARDIS materialisation circuit then he’s back here checking in on us. He’s not the only protector figure in Pertwee’s era of course – assignment on Earth leads to assignment to UNIT, and the Brigadier’s role as a reluctant ward, each man keeping the other on the straight and narrow; Jo is his moral compass – which is not to denigrate the roles of either Liz Shaw or Sarah Jane Smith, but The Daemons does cast a long shadow over Pertwee’s best stories.

As viewers casual and committed we need the Doctor to be first and foremost a protector, and no matter how he strays into periods of aloofness (early Tom Baker) or spurious morality (early Colin Baker), this is the version of the Doctor we want to see. Pertwee’s Doctor embodies this effortlessly, some of his best monologues are speeches of comfort (on the nature of heroism to the Thal Vaber in Planet of the Daleks, the ‘daisiest daisy’ speech to Jo in The Time Monster); at his worst he is aloof, haughty, hectoring and priggish – but at his best (more often than not) that metaphorical cloak of comfort comes out readily. We’ve seen versions of this with both Hartnell and Troughton previously, but in the Pertwee Era, with its UNIT and Production family, there’s an intimacy and confidence that parcels Jon Pertwee’s Doctor with an accessible humanity that moves to the background noticeably in his successors. If Saturday teatime Doctor Who was the comfort viewing for television audience families, then the era of the Third Doctor is comfort, security and protection personified. ‘The man Who’ fell to Earth, and became one of us.


Fast Return – March 2013

April 3rd, 2013

We are:

At the turnout for Valentine’s Day’s big screen science fiction double feature of The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. Hundreds of young fans in attendance, and not a single exasperated fan viewing day organiser in sight. Truly the series is no longer ours, and hooray for that!

That we forgot to mention in last month’s Media Circus the not insignificant and most welcome TARDIS Tales Treasury out now on Lulu courtesy of RTP publishing. Not bad work, and proof positive that things have not all been quiet down south with the zine. Many apologies Alex!

Even better (if Alex doesn’t mind this said), confirmation via Facebook that, inspired by the abovementioned feature, TT creator Graham Muir is currently penning a special anniversary episode of the tales for RTP’s 50th anniversary issue in November. Result!!

At FreakyTrigger’s description of this past weekend’s big Big BIG [as-predicted] 50th anniversary casting news (courtesy of DWM- damn! The Beeb):

“The writing was on the wall for Tennant’s return some months ago. Said wall being the London Underground, and said writing the posters for “Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger””

At the stories of JN-T coming out now. On the 50th anniversary. The truth will out, as they say, but the timing of the revelations must have made a few production heads sore in recent weeks. And, well, yikes…

That the JN-T media storm predicted in the tabloids have thus far amounted to a couple of days of slightly-ill-informed reportage (no surprises there then) and an awful lot of angry comments after the article for suggestions that avuncular uncle Who du jour Colin Baker looked to be involved by poor virtue of him being in the topmost photo in the old desk file. In every cloud, eh?

The end of the world is indeed nigh. Two words: Alien. Babies.

Two issues of DWM celebrating the series half-century, imminent return and Smith’s newest ever bow tie, and both issues are roundly mediabombed by a moving and revealing twenty year-old interview with Jon Pertwee. Well played, sir!

And speaking of the past, finally:

For Billyfluffs. Push the button, Bill…

And Relax…

April 1st, 2013

By the time this editorial is out The Bells of St John will have aired in the UK and possibly in parts not terrestrial elsewhere. The series is back, and peace can break out once more.

The weeks leading up to the return of Doctor Who are weird times for fandom, marked by bad behaviour as fears and concerns and values bubble over and manifest themselves in friction across the forums. Outpost Gallifrey, that ring-fenced pen of usual good behaviour, went more than a little feral recently and descened across several boards into its own version of Godwin’s Law, where nearly every thread, no matter how closely related to the new series, decsended into absurd absolute camps of ‘Moff Rules’ and ‘Moff Must Go’. Ridiculous, and yet, it’s just fandom letting off steam. Hopefully nobody got hurt…

For now, then, the anticipation is a different thing. With he first episode hurdle vaulted, those who have started watching the series can look forward to the weeks ahead with some knowledge of wha 2013′s make-up will be like; the rest of us watching terrestrially can fill the gaps in later. Beyond that of course the seri return marks another stepping on point for the 50th Anniversary celebrations – and here the rumours and disclosures are flying, even if one latest weekend announcement was a rush job. (If you don’t what to know about the 50th anniversary episode’s casting then thanks for reading!)

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On the State of Fanzine Publishing in New Zealand

March 7th, 2013

It’s anniversary year, and what are you doing for fandom?

The promising news is that it looks as though things are afoot locally for fanzine publishing. Here in New Zealand we still seem to be doggedly sticking to print format, and that’s fine for those who like that sort of thing. Older fans like myself will still remember the frisson of excitement when an A5 envelope drops through the letterbox (more often than not on a wet day) offering the promise of a good evening’s read that you can dip into and out of happily. The best TSVs, Teloses and RTPs of the past were made of this stuff and I like to think there was something in Zeus Plug sticking to its guns in old-tech as well. We may yet see our local zines published in digital download only – certainly the know-how is there and has been practiced by both editors; but for that to happen of course, we need to know that there’s a future for these titles.

That’s where the aforementioned “promising news’ demands more scrutiny. At the time of writing RTP issue 30 is around ten pages shy of a full issue, and once these are provided will go to press, it is hoped, in time for the return of the TV series. I’ll leave further promotion of that to editor Alex, but will say that besides Alex’s usual hard work and attention to detail, the next issue comes about through the efforts of RTP’s main writers, familiar names all. The same can be said for the most recent issue of RTP, and it’s the frustrating ubiquity of that set of writers and illustrators that prevented RTP 29 from being reviewed on this blog. A shame, but we felt it wouldn’t have been honest to do the job ourselves. It’s the nature of fanzines, and is possibly exacerbated by NZ being a small country, but the only way to fix this problem is to acquire new readers and contributors. There’s an anniversary issue of RTP planned for November of this year – the first year in several where more than one issue will come out. Hopefully the occasion and any promotion of the zine will see an influx of new talent. We know it’s out there.

So that’s RTP, what of TSV? Your humble scribe has no information further to that which he reads on the NZDWFC Message Boards. Apparently there’s interest in an issue, and TSV’s current editor Paul has said he’d put an issue together provided the content is there. Like RTP however, I feel the situation for TSV is grim if such a passive approach is to be taken by all. Put simply, TSV has a driver (abeit with his own limited free time) but no evident drive; the scenario is less “build it and they will come” and more “leave some tools about and hope for some passers-by”. There was talk of TSV launching a charm offensive when the series returned in 2005, to re-energise the Club (as was) and revitalise the zine. Some good issues came afterwards, and new faces featured to the credit of Paul and Adam McGechan, although it remains to be seen whether this was on the back of any promotion or whether it was the last burst of a sustained period of goodwill from its past contributors. Now we’re older and poorer in time, with less incentive to put things together. Speaking for myself RTP appeals as an outlet because it’s an established structure with a committed and available editor, better odds than putting together a Zeus Plug issue at this stage. But it also appeals because RTP is a labour of love between a small group of like-minded friends. It has never been the official organ of the national club, and arguably has survived this long because of this degree of intimacy. Though its profile is far better, I do wonder whether TSV has a harder hill to climb, committed as it seems to be to higher page counts and a broader market. I’d love to be proved wrong, and I applaud the efforts of the likes of David French to get things going, but the rest remains to be seen.

And what of Zeus Plug? Well, never say never I guess. For the time being we’ve nailed our colours to RTP’s mast out of habit and past loyalty (and the reasons stated above). But it’s the Fiftieth Anniversary for heaven’s sake – the reason many of us are doing this at all is because we know we’ll kick ourselves come November if we didn’t get off our chuffs and put something together, commemorative or not. Who knows – it might be the last year a fanzine gets published at all in this country.

So what about you? What are you doing for anniversary year?


Fast Return – February 2013

March 5th, 2013

Now with 100 per cent less ENZedding and Vastrabashing

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